Master of my fate, but not of my baby shower?
November 13, 2009 8:23 PM   Subscribe

ETIQUETTE FILTER: Why is it taboo for an expectant mother to publicize her own baby shower?

I'm not good with social graces, so someone please explain to me why it's okay to publicize/send out invitations to your own wedding, but "tacky" to publicize/send out invitations to your own baby shower?

Both events are celebrations of significant life events. Both are traditionally hosted by a third party external to the celebrants (although nowadays both may be paid for by the celebrants themselves). Neither carry an expectation of a gift--in neither celebration is a gift required for admission. OR conversely, BOTH carry an expectation of a gift--there are registries for both events at just about every major retailer in the country.

I was thrilled when I found out I was pregnant with my baby boy, and eager to celebrate with my friends. As soon as I told her the news, my good friend T asked if she could throw me a baby shower.

In order for T to know where to send the invitations, I had to get addresses from people, so they knew an invitation was forthcoming. My hostess also created an event page on Facebook, but needed me to actually be an administrator in order for my friends to receive the facebook invitation. So on the event page, I actually had to send facebook invitations to my own shower.

My husband and I paid for our own modest wedding at a time when it was nearly financially devastating for us to do so. We sent out our own invitations and didn't have a registry (we could have used cash, but never made that known to our guests). NOW we are financially stable and don't need people to buy our baby supplies for us. We just wanted to commemorate the birth of our first child together.

However, we acknowledge that not everyone can afford the expensive but necessary items (travel system, breast pump, diapers, etc.) all by themselves and can benefit from the kindness of their friends and family for items like clothes, bibs, and blankets. Isn't that why people create registries in the first place--how else do their friends and family know what they will need?

People can invite people to their own weddings and include registry information. But people cannot invite people to their own baby showers, and invitations Certainly are not supposed to include registry information. But when my friends have these kinds of major life events, I want to know exactly what kinds of things my friends are needing. A published registry would help me buy useful, appreciated gifts for them.

Both weddings and babies can be expensive and the celebrants of both could benefit from the generosity of their guests. So what gives? Why the weird double standard?

Also, what if no one offers to give a shower for a mom-to-be? Why is it tacky for an expectant mom to invite people to an event to share in the joy of her upcoming new arrival? Especially if the mother-to-be is in financial need?
posted by mynameismandab to Society & Culture (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm just a dumb male kid but I was under the impression that the whole point of a baby shower was that everybody was going to just show up with stuff they bought for New Mom and Baby. Less to dow with celebretating new life than just an awesome thing to do for people. A wedding is more of a ceremony for a specific event a lot of people care about and is for a lot of people. Inviting somebody to a wedding is asking them to share in and be a part of a really important day — inviting somebody to a baby shower is asking for free shit.
posted by floam at 8:27 PM on November 13, 2009

posted by floam at 8:28 PM on November 13, 2009

Best answer: A baby shower is not comparable to a wedding. A baby shower is comparable to a bridal shower.

A bridal shower, like a baby shower, is thrown by a close family member and not the wedding party.
posted by politikitty at 8:28 PM on November 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

It is called a shower because one is expected to be showered with presents. Perhaps you could call your party something else?
posted by ocherdraco at 8:30 PM on November 13, 2009

It's fine to invite friends and family to your baby's baptism or dedication. If you're not religious (or even if you are), it would be fine to send an invitation to a "Meet my new baby!" party, or a "Party with us before we become parents!" party. But a baby shower is understood to be mostly about gifts.

Just call it something else. People will likely still bring gifts, but you won't have used the language that explicitly means "Shower me with gifts, please!"
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:32 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

A wedding is (technically) gifts optional. The entire point of a shower, baby or bridal, is the giving of gifts. You don't get to throw a "yaaay let's all shower me with gifts!" party - it just doesn't set the right tone.
posted by Lady Li at 8:37 PM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

My understanding is that back when infant mortality was higher, baby showers were considered bad luck by some. This might be a vestige of that.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:37 PM on November 13, 2009

Best answer: You can invite people to your wedding because you are asking them to share in your celebration and to bear witness to your commitment to each other. You are not asking them for presents.

People can invite people to their own weddings and include registry information.
---No. It is tacky to include gift or registry requests in a wedding invitation. Someone else has to spread the word for you.

A shower is a party designed to "shower" you with gifts. Asking people for presents is tacky. It is -etiquette wise- like going around with your hand out.

However, it is entirely ok if a friend or co-worker throws a party for you. And lets everyone know just what you need and where you are registered. The Facebook thing is an awkward glitch. Integrating new technology with social standards can be tricky. The best answer is that your friend should be sending out invitations by mail. But, oh well.

Other etiquette "rules" about showers: A close family member shouldn't throw you a baby shower. But my mom-in-law threw one for me and it was great.
And supposedly baby showers are only for first babies. Because after that the parents have all the basics. But I threw one for a second baby once. The big brother needed a bed so the baby could have the crib. That worked out fine too.

So enjoy your pregnancy and your shower, and most importantly your baby!
posted by SLC Mom at 8:39 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

It is totally okay for a new parent to throw a party for the new baby so friends and family can meet the little bundle of joy.

A baby shower is a chance for a friend to throw a party where guests are expected to 'shower' the mom and dad with gifts for the baby. It is not like a wedding.

A wedding is a ceremony, a baby shower is something people use to help new parents set up the nursery. Yes, they both celebrate life events, but they are not the same.

Registry information is supposed to be given to the guest if they ask for it. So when they call the host to RSVP, if they want to shop from the registry, that's when the information is given.

If you don't want a shower, wait until after the baby is born and throw your own 'Welcome to the World' party. A lot of religions have Christening ceremonies, other cultures have Naming parties, I'm sure you can come up with a fun idea for your little one without having a traditional shower.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:40 PM on November 13, 2009

I'm not good with social graces, so someone please explain to me why it's okay to publicize/send out invitations to your own wedding, but "tacky" to publicize/send out invitations to your own baby shower?

A wedding and a baby shower are not the same thing. A wedding is a social event, but there's no social event for the actual birth of a baby (please, I hope not). A baby shower is the closest thing, and a shower is only for gifts. Traditional etiquette states that you cannot throw yourself a gift party- you cannot throw yourself a wedding or baby shower. Someone else has to throw it for you.

You seem pretty worked up about this topic and you didn't say why. I sympathize with you. People don't understand what it is about weddings and babies that make people crazy- this is definitely part of it, the gift/shower aspect. You either have to find someone who's willing to stand in as the "host" of your shower (who will still work closely enough with you to pull the whole thing together and communicate all necessary details to your guests- in short, they need to be you without being you), or you have to privately deal with not having any friends who love you enough to do it. It's a delicate dance.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:42 PM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

" the celebrants of both could benefit from the generosity of their guests"

In case it isn't obvious from other responses so far, there's a difference here. In the case of a shower, the whole point is to benefit from the generosity of guests. It'd be one thing if you were just having a party, but the purpose of a "shower" is to shower someone with gifts. That's why it's called that. It's the definition of a shower. That you might use the occasion to order a couple trays of Indian food and play creepy baby-related games is beside the point. "Shower" is about giving someone stuff.

Throwing a shower for yourself is, in etiquette terms, tantamount to soliciting gifts. And that's considered tacky.

Throw something else for yourself that isn't a shower if you want to dodge the tackiness.

"Both weddings and babies can be expensive"

Wait, what? Woah woah woah hold it! Slow down there, Tex. My Tacky ThinkingSense is tingling something fierce. Throwing a wedding might be expensive -- mine wasn't, but I gather some people really go nuts with them -- but wedding gifts aren't in any way whatsoever intended to offset that. Traditionally speaking, the point of wedding gifts is to help create the basics of a household where formerly no household existed. It's got nothing to do with how expensive the caterer was.
posted by majick at 8:45 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you want to have people come celebrate the birth of your child, then do that.

However, a baby shower is a gift grab to help the new parents get set up for the first child. Often there is no shower for later children because the parents have all the burp cloths they need.

Since you've stated that you don't need people to help with baby supplies, then you don't need to throw your own shower. Instead just have a party to welcome your son to the world.

posted by 26.2 at 8:54 PM on November 13, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, a lot of responses in such a short amount of time! I guess I am just absorbing the energy and frustration of some other mothers-to-be on this online forum for pregnant women that I frequent. They come from myriad financial circumstances and family situations, and I am just wondering why there is weirdness associated with letting friends and family know what they need for their babies.

Now that so many of you have identified that I was operating under a false dichotomy and that they are not equivalents (baby shower:wedding vs. baby shower: wedding shower), it is easier to understand the disparity. And boy am I glad that I did not send registry information in my wedding invitation!!
posted by mynameismandab at 8:58 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm going to have to disagree. A baby shower isn't merely for being "showered with gifts". It's a celebration for friends, family, and the expectant mother to all celebrate the impending new arrival. Gifts are customary, of course, but you could always not register again and include something on your invite that says "in lieu of gifts, please donate to X charity in our baby's name" if you're concerned about seeming "tacky".

Things change, celebrations evolve. Go with what feels right.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:08 PM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

i didn't know this was tacky. of the people i know who've had baby showers, they've all invited me themselves, because whoever it was throwing the shower didn't know me or my address and so it was left to the mom-to-be to invite me if she wanted me to come. so....yeah. if you want people to come to your shower, invite them.

people are all hung up on these weird rules about what's tacky and what isn't. who cares? these rules about etiquette have all clearly gone out the window (emily post is reeling and i miss many of them, but still). there are bigger concerns in the world than who invited who to a baby shower or where someone got information about a wedding registry. i for one am pissed that i will never get to have a wedding registry because i'm gay. but, you know, whatever.

if people are all up in your shit because you invited them to your own baby shower, your response should be, "sorry, didn't know it was such a touchy subject for you. you don't have to come."
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:08 PM on November 13, 2009

Oh, yeah, let me add that I've definitely been invited to (small, informal) baby showers by the expectant mother, and thought nothing of it. It's like putting registry information on the website - etiquette guides aren't really going to like it, but times change and not everyone is (or wants to be) high society in the first place.
posted by Lady Li at 9:28 PM on November 13, 2009

I'm with misanthropicsarah. I had no idea this was considered rude, I actually have a coworker (who is really in need of baby supplies and doesn't have a lot of money, at all) who is throwing her own baby shower. It never occured to me that it was rude, that she was asking for gifts, or anything tacky like that. I just thought she was excited to get together with her friends and coworkers and see everyone, maybe excited about gifts, but who wouldn't be?

Then again, I'm from the NW, where we are (so I've been lead to believe) more relaxed about the do's and don't's of social manners in situations like this. *shrugs*
posted by sherber at 9:34 PM on November 13, 2009

" these rules about etiquette have all clearly gone out the window"

One of the awesome things about etiquette is that even if other people choose to ignore it or violate it, you can still practice the stuff. Social customs have meaning and tradition whether you want them to or not. I'm all in favor of breaking with tradition, throwing the rules away, and doing the unconventional, but it's silly to pretend that etiquette doesn't exist or is meaningless.

When someone asks about the etiquette of a thing, they're asking about how others will perceive it. In this case, throwing yourself a shower -- which is called that for a specific reason -- is going to be seen as tacky by people who know what a shower is. There's another group of people who think the word "shower" is just what you call a baby celebration party, and yeah, they're not going to care who sent them an invitation. You could call it a "babyparty" or "infant fundraiser" or "gift grab" or "an informal get-together with a reproductive theme" or whatever, and it's fine, do what you're going to do and have a good time at it, please!

Just be aware that if you use a term with a particular meaning (such as "shower") people who know what that term means may actually give you the benefit of the doubt and assume your word choice was intelligent and deliberate.
posted by majick at 9:38 PM on November 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

it's silly to pretend that etiquette doesn't exist or is meaningless

But it's much sillier to pretend that it never evolves or changes. the meaning changes over time, the traditions change over time, and the methods do too. Or are we all partying exactly the same way as we were 100, even 50 years ago?

In other words, you've just called everyone ignorant and unintelligent if they don't ascribe to what your vision of etiquette is, or your particular values are. Which kind of illustrates the problem the OP is facing well.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:52 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

That's not only uncharitable but a seemingly malicious deliberate mischaracterization of what I said. The question was why it's considered tacky, and that's what I'm endeavoring to answer. You don't consider it tacky, and that's cool, it's good that people can enjoy their lives without a bunch of old rules, man, telling them what to do, man. But since there are people who will in fact consider it tacky and the question was about why those people would think that, I thought it might be useful to do something like, say... answer the question.

It's awesome that you don't care about etiquette, and I'm sure doing so enriches your life. But "yeah, in my circle we don't give a crap about that old fashioned junk" doesn't really do a terrific job of answering questions of etiquette which by definition aren't about what you or I would think but about what people who care about etiquette think.
posted by majick at 10:07 PM on November 13, 2009 [6 favorites]

Perhaps I'm a bit more particular about my guestlists than others, but if there was even a doubt that this person would think less of me for acknowledging their importance in my life, they wouldn't be there.
posted by june made him a gemini at 10:51 PM on November 13, 2009

Wow, a lot of responses in such a short amount of time! I guess I am just absorbing the energy and frustration of some other mothers-to-be on this online forum for pregnant women that I frequent. They come from myriad financial circumstances and family situations, and I am just wondering why there is weirdness associated with letting friends and family know what they need for their babies.

The weirdness comes from the fact that it is impolite to beg/guilt-trip people into giving you gifts, and that's traditionally what someone would interpret throwing one's own shower to be.

I do think that if someone from social circle A were throwing you a shower, you could get away with passing the information about it onto members of social circle B under some excuse like "I didn't know if you wanted me giving away your contact information without permission" or something similar. As long as you put on a show of reluctance about it, you've done your part to dispel any notion that you're just some greedy individual.

If you really don't want gifts, do what others said. Throw a random baby-related party. There's no need to invoke the word "shower," with all its baggage.
posted by aswego at 11:02 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

You don't need to throw a baby shower. I had a random acquaintance want to throw me one because I live so far from family and most of my friends, but I really disliked the whole concept. So we didn't have a baby shower. People still got us stuff, it was almost impossible to get them not to, but I didn't have an occasion specifically designed around gift giving. To 'announce' baby anachronism, I organised a BBQ when we visited family four and half months after she was born, which worked well (apart from the usual family politics nonsense). We were in a position where we didn't need gifts, and I've got a 'thing' about stuff like that, so not having a shower worked well for us.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:25 PM on November 13, 2009

I'm not up on the etiquette, but from the few baby showers I've been invited to, I can't even remember/care if they were invites from the mom themselves or by a 'close friend' who was probably instructed by the mom. In most cases I usually only knew the mom and one side of the party.

Of the ones I've been invited to, they were specifically family or extremely close friends and I was delighted to attend and shower said mother with attention and a gift from the registry or for herself. (And just be all giddy and happy for her.) Maybe for those who throw less modest parties it is seen as tacky to organize the event yourself, but if it's actually celebrated as a private, warm event, I don'y see why you can't organize it yourself.

Maybe that is something to keep in mind, to keep it intimate and connected. Focusing on people who would actually be involved and around for this kids life. Nixing coworkers and casual acquaintances?

Or, if you really want to show self sufficiency, ask for small gifts or donations to charities that help children in need perhaps? Have a party for your future child while also helping somebody elses?
posted by darlingmagpie at 12:31 AM on November 14, 2009

If you don't want presents, don't call it a shower. Call it a celebration, or a tea party, or something, but if you call it a shower, then yes, presents are mandatory to most people.
posted by KathrynT at 12:50 AM on November 14, 2009

In addition to the 'asking for gifts' bit that is easy for us all to acknowledge, there is as a previous poster mentioned, the historical reality of infant mortality. And this is where I get all anthropology at 4 in the morning.

In many circles today it is not acceptable to call ones own baby pretty or smart, lest you draw the attention of evil spirits or people with bad intentions. If someone else says or even implies that your baby is attractive, there are sanctioned responses.

I'm not meaning to say that we all overtly believe these things, just as we don't all believe that a bride is wearing white because she's a virgin. But I will say that on a mythological level, or in the subconcious, humanity is very aware of liminal ('in between') states, and their unique dangers. Being born remains dangerous, even with vast improvements in care. And check out the numbers for America vs other 'first world' nations. We lose a lot of mothers and babies in childbirth.

It's less dangerous for a relative or friend to draw attention to the pregnancy than it is for the mother to bring this attention. There is so much blaming of women for pregnancy loss (too much exercise, not enough, drugs, smiling, diet, etc) and many groups heavily circumscribe the behaviors of women who are in.
various stages of pregnancy.

So, unfortunately, in some instances, throwing your own shower is viewed as equivalent to wishing harm on your unborn baby.

And who wants to be seen doing that?

Now, of course it's easier for us to agree that it's about asking for gifts, because we don't talk about babies dying, or miscarriages happening. This is changing, in a good way, in my opinion. The assumption that every pregnancy ends with a healthy baby and a healthy mom is pretty damaging to the women who experience different outcomes.

I'll probably think of something that clarifies this after I've had my walk and some breakfast.

To be clear, the gift thing is also a valid and true explanation, but death and deformity are an additional, (mostly) unspoken remnant of past ettiquette combined with current reluctance to address dangers directly.

If you're interested in how groups decide what is dangerous and what dangers to acknowledge, look into Mary Douglas' work on Cultural Perception of Risk. The short version: As individuals, we get a lot of ideas about what is safe from the people around us. The dangers that we publicly acknowledge may be just a subset of the dangers we agree on. Cars vs airplanes are a common example of this. For something less euro-centric (yet simultaneously moreso), the shift of malaria causation from witch craft to mosquitoes.

Lastly, the iPhone makes it nearly impossible for me to edit this. I thought I'd just toss in a quick comment but instead you're getting a first draft/outline of a 2-10 page paper. And now I'll probably need to go to campus to see what I can dig up on baby showers in the anthro literature.
posted by bilabial at 1:22 AM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Ah! The title of this thread.

The baby shower stuff is pretty well summed up by humanity having only very recently (In the billions of years scheme of things) come to think we are each master of our own destiny. This new thought hasn't finished melding into stuff like birth.

Baby shower baggage has a lot to do with people 'playing god' ie a mother thinking she knows god's plan and/or is guaranteed a healthy baby. When something unexpected happens, people often describe feeling that they've lost control. That feeling of loss compounds with the other losses.

And many argue (some convincingly) that not having the idea that you're/we're in control is preferable to losing that feeling.

Yes, I recognize the contradiction in blaming mothers' diets, thoughts, etc for fetal harm while also saying humans have little or no control over the outcome. I can explain it, but then I'd really be writing a paper, with a lot of ängst over gender issues.
posted by bilabial at 1:41 AM on November 14, 2009

Nthing "don't call it a shower". The baby shower question is moot for me, but I refused a bridal shower the second time around and had a fun, celebratory afternoon with my friends instead.

Even if you don't call whatever you do a shower, that doesn't mean people who want to won't give you presents. You just avoid all the social weirdness of who issued the invitations, whether you're soliciting for gifts for yourself, etc. In a time when many people are broke/out of work/underemployed, who wants to be seen by whatever friends do follow more traditional etiquette as a bit grabby or selfish? (Not saying you are, but I have seen people throw repeated showers/housewarmings/etc. for themselves in a way that seems designed to solicit presents, and that does get annoying.)
posted by immlass at 8:47 AM on November 14, 2009

If I got a shower invitation from a dear friend for her own baby, I'd be 90% excited and happy to share in the joy, and 10% thinking it's a little tacky. If I got such an invitation from a co-worker I barely knew, the percentages would be reversed, and I'd just say I couldn't make it.

But it seems to me that in all these matters - wedding gifts, baby showers -- things do seem to be steadily moving toward a more naked sense of entitlement. Which is pretty much what people mean by "tacky": the sense that someone's personal circumstances -- their wedding was expensive, there are a lot of things they'd like for their baby that they can't afford -- make their friends and acquaintances responsible for providing them with what they'd like.
posted by palliser at 8:50 AM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed - do not turn this into a comparative mothering thread, please, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:25 AM on November 14, 2009

Rather than a "shower" wait a few weeks after the baby is born and have a "coming out party" to meet the baby.

A simple, "no gifts, please" on the invitation is fine. Probably a relief to some people.
posted by Edubya at 3:38 PM on November 14, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone who responded to my question. Each viewpoint has its own merits. Although I still tend toward the "times change, customs change" mentality, I certainly appreciate hearing divergent interpretations of an etiquette breach.
posted by mynameismandab at 12:18 PM on December 14, 2009

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